Some years ago, someone who claimed to have inside knowledge contacted me and alleged he had witnessed certain city outside employees sneaking off together when they were supposed to be working.
I recall a newsroom discussion at the time about how we might determine whether the allegation was part of an urban myth or a civic reality. The reality, we determined at the time, was short of setting up a surveillance of unknown length, the informant's charge would be difficult to document and prove.
The years passed.
Then last Tuesday, 48-year-old East Kildonan resident Darlene Beaumont chanced upon a method that didn't require hours or even days of following city workers around. All she had to do was open her back gate.
And snap a couple of photos.
Then she emailed them to the Free Press, along with a few words of explanation and outrage.
Darlene Beaumont lives on Kimberly Avenue, off Louelda Street.
She explained it was last Tuesday, around 11:45 a.m. when her boyfriend told her to go outside and take a peek in the small park just beyond their back fence. What she saw was two riding mowers and two men resting in the shade of a tree. One was stretched out the grass in a sleeping position and the other was seated on his mower. Darlene went back in and grabbed her camera.
Later, she would note that her camera recorded the first photo being taken at 12:31 p.m. Of course the lawn cutters simply could have been taking a siesta on a lunch break. Darlene suspected they were cutting their work hours short instead of mowing the lawn because of where they were parked. The grass in the small park -- which is adjacent to a much larger civic park -- had been cut a few days earlier. Darlene would sneak a second photo just over half an hour later at 1:05 p.m., and when she checked on them again at 1:30 p.m., one was just getting up and the other was chatting on his cellphone.
Darlene said she knows it was 1:30 because one of her favourite TV shows had just ended.
As she saw it, the two city workers were demonstrating the difference between working hard and hardly working.
Tuesday, I emailed the photos and Darlene's email to the city's communications department.
I asked if this was a couple of guys on a lunch break, or maybe an extended lunch break? And I wanted to know if they were contract employees or CUPE members? Initially, the city responded by writing that the matter was under investigation.
"We take such matters very seriously and will take appropriate action."
I responded in another email asking for the results of the investigation: "Are you going to write about this before we get some more info from these employees?" the city wrote back.
"No," I replied.
Again, that was last Tuesday.
Wednesday passed without an answer from the city. Followed by Thursday.
Finally, early Friday morning I emailed the city again.
Later that morning, the city responded, predictably as it turned out.
"As this is a personnel matter, the city will not publicly discuss this situation. Do know that as I had indicated, the matter is being taken seriously and appropriate action will be taken. Sorry, but that's all I can tell you."
So, it had been four days; I had made my commitment to wait for the lawn cutters to be interviewed; the city had investigated the matter and discipline of some sort was in order. What we are left to wonder, though, is exactly what happened and how long the pair actually spent under the tree during that traditional lunchtime period.
If it was a minor, or major infraction, in nature.
Which is something the city should be open to reporting, given that it's our tax money, and our city.
The civic administration also declined to disclose if the two workers were unionized CUPE employees or contract workers. But what I can tell you though is Monday, Mike Davidson, the president of CUPE Local 500, hadn't been contacted by the city. And he said he expects he would have if they had been members of his union and they were being disciplined. What I can also tell you is something this story illustrates in colour, if not in a black-and-white way.
The citizens of Winnipeg are armed with point-and-shoot cameras. And in the case of every city employee who works in public, from grass cutters to police officers, the citizens are not only armed, they're potentially dangerous to your continued employment.